When I was a kid, my father’s greatest fear was that I’d turn out gay. Well, you can add my sexuality to the list of ways I’ve disappointed him, along with not joining the high school football team and not pursuing a career as a firefighter. One day he sat me down and earnestly explained how it was up to me to continue the family name. I had no idea what he was talking about. I just wanted to finish watching Power Puff Girls.
He knew I was gay and, like the Bible-belt community in Dallas where I grew up, he believed I could “pray the gay away” or otherwise shed my sexuality like snakeskin. You didn’t see openly gay people in Texas. That wasn’t a thing. Unfortunately, my impressionable young self absorbed that mentality and acted accordingly. I believed being gay was just a phase I’d eventually get over. After all, I was at least somewhat attracted to girls. All it would take was the right one, I figured. When I saw a beautiful lady and felt something, I held onto to that as a beacon of hope that I would be normal one day.
I had my first girlfriend in 10th grade. We were friends for a while. Because we were so comfortable with one another, I took that as a sign that we should start dating. So, I asked her out, thinking the sexual attraction would come in time. We’d talk for hours on the phone about nothing and everything. Everything except my sexuality, I mean. Why bring up that messy topic if I was going to be totally over it one day? That would be like mentioning that I used to wet the bed. TMI.
As the months went by, I realized I felt nothing sexual for her. Where was that stirring I was supposed to feel when I looked into her eyes? To fix that, I’d concentrate on images of women in Playboy magazines or anything else I could find in hopes of making something move down there. No such luck. It was like looking at nude sculpture. I could appreciate their beauty, but nothing more.
Then came the moment my girlfriend and I tried to kiss. It was about as exhilarating as a hiccup. The fact that we had our first kiss months into the relationship should have been a sign, at any rate. Shortly after that awkward moment, we mutually decided to just be friends.
In college, I waited for some kind of second puberty where I’d suddenly see women differently. I met another girl and we clicked instantly. She had to be the one, I thought to myself. But later she told me about how she’d had three previous boyfriends who turned out to be gay. One cheated on her with a man, another confessed to having feelings for men, and the other was in the closet. I wasn’t sure if she just had incredibly bad luck or what but I refused to be gay evil ex #4.
I once saw a story on the news about a man who was married with kids for 10 years then eventually filed for divorce to be with another man. I couldn’t imagine doing that to someone. Dating this girl felt like I would be doing just that so I ended it before they got too serious.
I gave in and had my first boyfriend sophomore year of college. Suddenly, I felt for a man the way I’d hoped I would for a woman. His touch, his gaze, his speech, his presence, everything about him set my heart ablaze. I couldn’t get enough. In the back of my mind, I figured it would only last a little while so why not enjoy myself.
Months into the relationship, he and I went to a psychic for a palm reading, just for kicks. She concluded that he’d be wealthy one day and I would get married only once in my life. Ironically, her revelation about my future led to an argument afterwards. I believed I would get married one day, but we both knew it wouldn’t be to him. I was still stuck with the thought that it was just a phase. Why would I marry my boyfriend if I would eventually lose my attraction to men the way little girls lose interest in Barbie dolls? The idea was unfathomable. That was part of the reason we broke up a few months later, though, trust me, there were plenty of other reasons to blame. Him cheating on me with one of my friends takes the cake.
Eventually, I realized waiting for my sexuality to change was like waiting for Godot. It wasn’t going to happen and I had to square with that. I spent years in depression that felt like a mental prison because I was trying to be someone I could never be. Every now and then I’d get involved with a man with whom I knew it wouldn’t last. Somehow, that was okay in my mind.
And then it happened. I can’t pinpoint the exact moment but it was like I could finally see my life for what it was. I concluded that if God were as benevolent as everyone makes him out to be, then he’d want me to be happy. Though I’m no longer religious, I realized the only way I will truly be happy is to be myself. So I let myself start dating and found a wonderful boyfriend. Had I met him two years earlier I wouldn’t have given him a chance, and my world would be poorer for it.
Inscribed on the Temple of Apollo (my favorite Greek god) in Ancient Greece was the famous aphorism “Know Thyself.” But knowing one’s self is the only first step to happiness. Once you know who you are, what comes next is staying true to that person. It took me over a decade to learn that and I had to go through a lot of heartache in the process. I wouldn’t wish that on anyone.